The beautiful Hawaiian island of O’ahu was the destination of a recent trip of mine. Amongst the memories created there, one day in particular stood out and I want to share it with you. The morning began in anticipation, with my husband and I planning to tour the island in our rental car. The previous day a storm warning had come in with talk of huge waves off the North Shore of O’ahu, so we knew there would be some great surfing to watch. We also knew that the freeways on the island hugged much of the coastline and the drive would be scenic. We grabbed our guide book, swimwear, sunscreen, car keys, and were off.
Our first stop was on the south shore of the island, and home of surfing, Waikīkī Beach. It was here that Hawaiian royalty were said to go for their retreats in the 1800s and enjoy catching waves on early forms of longboards. We didn’t want the pros (or royalty) to have all the fun, so we figured we would catch some of the gentler waves here, before heading up to watch the big boy stuff. Waikīkī Beach was on my husband’s bucket list. He is a huge fan of surfing. And also surf movies, such as Endless Summer, Riding Giants, Point Break, Soul Surfer, and Chasing Mavericks – all great films.
We arrived at Waikīkī and found several options for renting boards, we chose Hawaiian Oceans. The waves at Waikīkī are perfect for beginner and intermediate surfers – just a few feet tall and rolling in consistently over a smooth sandy seabed. I was happy to ride about a dozen waves this trip. Things clicked for me. I look more relaxed now on a board and have got the hang of standing sideways, and bending my knees and arms (I used to stand up straight and face forward like a soldier). I am even starting to turn my board along the wave (mainly out of necessity to avoid other surfers and outrigger canoes, but I’m getting it). Jeff has got all this down, and then some. He looks good out there – relaxed, happy, and free (quite different from picturing him in a suit behind a desk).
It is a thrill to catch a wave – to paddle out into the surf and then sit astride your board, floating, feeling the ocean around you, rhythmic and peaceful, listening to it, breathing with it; you watch the waves on the horizon, drawing closer, looking at their size, shape, and spacing, and decide this is the one to go for; you swing your board into position pointing to the shore, and get ready, lying flat on your tummy, feet near the back of the board and hands forward and cupped, ready to pull the water; you watch the wave, its curl building and peak rising, and feel the rush of the water coming behind you; as it gets close, you begin to paddle strong and hard, to get in sync and move with it, you feel the edges begin to break next to you and turn white and foamy; you are careful not to let the nose dive, you straighten your forearms and raise your neck, like a cobra pose in yoga, then jump up, and you are on it, part of it, riding its power into the shore – you cannot help but smile at this joyous moment.
After our own wonderful, but exhausting, surf experience, we were ready to head to the North Shore. We rinsed off in a fresh water shower by the edge of the ocean, grabbed a well-deserved frozen yogurt from across the street (which tasted especially good after expending all of our energy), and jumped in the car. The drive up the coastline lived up to our expectations – one of the prettiest views from a freeway I have seen. Near the northern most point, in the town of Kahuku, we stopped to re-fuel at the popular roadside truck Giovanni’s Shrimp, and also had some delicious Uncle Woody’s BBQ corn.
Tummies full, our next stop was around the peninsula and down to the famous Banzai Pipeline, at Ehukai Beach Park. We left the car and headed towards the beach. Throngs of spectators gathered along the back section of the sand. Orange flags running parallel to the shoreline along the center of the beach, designated it closed (to all but the experts). It heightened everyone’s anticipation – these waves were serious. We walked 100 ft, came to a clearing right in front of the Team Volcom Pro Surfer’s house (this must be a good spot), laid down our towels, and sat.
The sound of the waves was thunderous. There was a constant loud hum in the background, as the large waves crashed and broke; it sounded like a plane’s engine. This was layered with a gentler hushing, as they reached the shore and swept and pulled against the sand. The waves were mesmerizing to watch as they came in in sets. Their base was dark and menacing, but towards their tip they lightened into shades of turquoise, and at their thinnest point the light from behind shone through giving them a luminous glow. The wind caught the tops of the waves, creating white mist whipping off the back. As they broke the foam would gallop forward like white stallions, some getting ahead of the others, jockeying for position, continuing along the length of the wave to create a sweeping barrel.
The waves were like a giant wall, 25 ft or more, towering over the two dozen surfers and bodyboarders, who looked like ants floating out there in their wetsuits. The crowd at Banzai watched in excitement, waiting for a brave surfer to make their move. When they caught a wave a cheer would emit from the crowd, none louder than from the Volcom house behind us, who were stoked for their friends and team mates. We gazed, awe-struck, as the rider charged along the barrel or tube, known also in surfing as the “green room”. They ran their hands along the back wall, but kept up their speed, trying to outrun their opponent before it came crashing down with a triumphant roar, sending plumes of foam in every direction.
Those gathered were a blend of cultures. A tall, pale, scrawny Caucasian guy with long dark dread-locked hair, stood chatting to a beefy, tanned Hawaiian. There were young and old, locals and visitors, and almost everyone, including me, had a camera poised to catch the perfect shot. But when the pros came in from riding their giant waves and headed to their beach houses, despite the fact I had so recently been snapping their pictures, I didn’t want to invade their privacy, so looked away nonchalantly, and said nothing. I quickly reflected that if I had come in from an incredible feat I would want someone to acknowledge it. The younger spectators were the most confident and friendly to the surfers. They would brazen up and ask them questions or wish them luck. One surfer responding “Thanks man, I’ll take all the luck I can get”. I realized I wanted to take a leaf out of the kids’ books and not be so embarrassed. I endeavored to congratulate the next surfer.
That next surfer turned out to be Volcom pro Gavin Beschen, tall, slim, and tanned, with shaggy blond hair, and stubble. Gavin had a gnarly ride out there. He dropped in, rode the barrel, but then fell and got pummeled by the surf. It snapped his board clean in two. It is wild seeing what the power of the waves can do to the board. Thankfully he knew what he was doing and it left his body unscathed. After catching the end of his board he jogged back up the beach carrying the two pieces. Jeff went up to him and fist bumped. “Hey man, it was cool to watch you. You were impressive.” Gavin replied with a smile “Yeah, some waves are good and some are bad. It is just good being out there.” So true -it is good being out there.
While watching the surfers the sun began to dip, so we made our way back to the car. We stopped to pick up two cups of iced lemonade at a stand between the beach and the parking lot, manned by a couple of cute, sun-kissed girls with freckled noses. I am not sure if it was their sweet personalities, the amazing surfing we had just witnessed, the scenic surroundings, or heat of the day, but the drink tasted so good and refreshing. We sipped and listened to some tunes as we headed back towards the hotel. Not far down the street we rounded Waimea Bay and saw several dozen more surfers in the water and a row of cars stopped to look. Jeff and I looked at each other and couldn’t resist. Jumping out the car, lemonades in hand, we sat on the guard rail and watched a few more waves. As the sun set, casting long golden rays against the long grass at the side of the road, a small boy jumped up on a rock outcropping and pulled out a ukulele. His notes barely audible above the crash of the surf. It was a perfect end to a wonderful day. I smiled to myself. Aloha Hawaii, until next time…